The icon of WWE's PG-era made some surprising remarks regarding the state of the company in an interview with Rolling Stone. 15-time WWE champion John Cena, who debuted a year after the Attitude Era is considered to have ended at WrestleMania X-Seven, said that he misses the days when blood often stained the mat after matches and wrestlers were free to use salty language on air.
Via Rolling Stone:
"I'd much rather it be a program geared toward me, whether that's TV-14 or sometimes even more graphic than that, which is what I like. For one thing, profanity brought fire out of people with personalities that backed the language. It's very difficult to say, 'Oh, you're being poopy,' especially when they're meant to be fighting words. And now, if someone starts to bleed, the referee intervenes to stop the bleeding. But before, you'd just let it fly. Blood is one of the things that made fights cool. Like, you knew it had gotten serious. I understand why we don't do it anymore. Vince has been a coach to me, a father figure, a boss and a friend, and his goal and my goal are the same: to make the company be as big as it can be. But, yeah, the blood is one thing I miss."
You may have forgotten, but Cena took part in one of the bloodiest matches in WWE history. Cena faced current commentator John Bradshaw Layfield in the main event of Judgment Day in 2005, in an "I Quit" match. JBL hits Cena with an unprotected chair shot to the head early on, which busts open Cena's head and causes blood to stream down his body. Over the next 14 minutes, Cena lost an incredible amount of blood and finished the match looking like Carrie. It's gruesome to the point of being distracting and hard to watch.
Does WWE need to gear weekly programming to adults, or is the current family-friendly product best for business? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. WWE can't pull off a revert back to the Attitude Era, nor should it attempt to.
We're already seeing a gradual increase in the amount of profanity on air. The Undertaker-Shane McMahon promos leading up to WrestleMania 32 were very PG-13, which is probably as far as WWE will push the envelope (If you go back and watch an old episode of Raw on the WWE Network, it's almost shocking how many lines could get people in trouble today).
Similarly, WWE doesn't need wrestlers to bleed as much as they used to, because it can quickly get out of hand and lessen the impact. If a guy bleeds every match, it becomes less shocking. Wrestlers should be allowed to bleed, however, when it makes sense.
Take the Brock Lesnar-Dean Ambrose "No Holds Barred" match at Wrestlemania 32 for example. WWE built up the match as a throwback to extreme hardcore matches from the Attitude Era for weeks before it happened, and brought out legends like Terry Funk and Mick Foley to present Ambrose with weapons. It was heavily implied that Ambrose would be using a barbed-wire bat (or perhaps even a chainsaw) against Lesnar, as it was his only real chance to damage the Beast Incarnate.
The actual match featured liberal use of kendo sticks (which are brutal), and Ambrose spraying Lesnar with a fire extinguisher - but neither man bled. The performance didn't deliver the type of match WWE promised. Had Lesnar busted open Ambrose (or vice versa), it would have undoubtedly heightened the moment. Not every match needs blood, and WWE could go entire episodes of Raw or Smackdown without color, but it's obvious to a long-time viewer when a match calls for it.